Coming Full Circle
Taking The Neej
What was remarkable about the 23rd Auld Derby was not the goals, but rather the fact that newbies are newbies had been shut out - the first time this had happened, since the inaugural edition over twenty seasons past. The underrated Neeraj Muthyala
took up the scoring mantle for Grilled, banging them in towards the end of each half, to seal the Birds' ascendancy over this corner of Jurong for a while more.
Further, Neeraj had fought to recover from a knock to the knee that had seen him taken off early against Really McCoys last week. It was quickly apparent that he was back near a hundred per cent though, as he galloped hither and thither around the rain-sodden the newbies ground with all the enthusiasm of a kid picked for his first match.
newbies however were also in arguably the best condition they had been in for a while, coming off as they were important wins against promotees Black Banana FC and Singa Songo. Longtime Number Eight Leow Jing Ting, who had struck against both, would once again be sought after by his teammates, and he was bolstered by the recovery of Raja Sahu, who like Muthyala, was a doubt to start.
The hosts' conservative 5-3-2, combined with the heavy pitch, made for unsightly viewing all considered. Much of the initial interactions could best be described as mud wrestling, and not wholly due to the players' own wishes. Fullback Guan Wen Jin would be booked in the eighth minute for dragging Florus Romijn
down with him into the turf, but to be frank, Romijn was having enough trouble of his own simply keeping his footing at speed.
If the weather was especially suited to neither team's strengths, newbies were additionally near-impervious to the traditional adaptation - a crossing game, boasting as they did by some distance the tallest backline in the league. The Birds would accept that, and after plenty of painstaking approach work on the ground, Islom Davlatov
would call Seetoh Aik Beng into action for the first time in the 27th minute, with a run-of-the-mill grounder.
This strike was probably more to prove a point than anything, and newbies would threaten rather more convincingly, a few minutes later. Their aging side had learnt not to bomb forward without thinking things out, but Leow Jing Ting for one could still move extremely quickly over short distances, when he wanted to. Instead of going it himself, however, he would spot the enterprising Wong Long Kok steaming into the box. Wong only got glancing contact on the incoming ball, however, and his header dropped narrowly wide.
The impasse was starting to crack, at least, and Yuta Nakakita
kept Seetoh honest, with a running snipe from outside the penalty area after dispossessing Liao Chi Yun. Despite that, newbies appeared certain to make it to half-time level... until Neeraj Muthyala
ran Cyril Künzler
's deceptive low cross into goal, after it had somehow made it through a forest of legs at the near post.
newbies would have plenty of time to mull over countermeasures, but evidently decided that their best course of action was to keep calm and carry on as before. Not that this was that unreasonable, as Chia Loong Ping gave Yuta Nakakita
a couple of heart-stopping moments, with his experience. The younger man's powers of reaction were great, though, and Chia just couldn't get a proper shot off.
Grilled had much the same problem at the other end, but they would catch a huge break in the 58th minute, when the increasingly-active Muthyala powered his way past a slightly-uncertain Wong Long Kok. The usually doubly-backed-up newbies defence was vulnerable for once, and a snappy floated pass over to captain Moey Xin Seng
would be hammered in on the bounce. 2-0.
newbies head coach Sim Kian Eng could not afford to wait much longer to make changes after this, but Yue Haoping and Zhang Ruotian were ready and raring to come on, in any event. This also meant the end of Leow's mini scoring streak, as he would depart together with Raja Sahu, who was becoming increasingly haggard thanks to Mohammad Ramli Saliman
This was probably the correct move, as the airdrop of their two icons caused newbies' style to undergo a complete overhaul. Yue and Zhang had sparked tons of excitement in their time, and with only half an hour to go, they would not need to ration it out.
Zhang would reach for his best weapon immediately upon coming on, and several Grilled players would be bewildered at just how rapidly a 37 year-old could move. As stated, Leow was no slouch himself, but Zhang was another thing altogether, as he blazed past Hoàng Trung Quá
. Sadly for him, Chia Loong Ping was also caught behind the action, and his take on the strech was easy pickings for Valentin Batâr
It was the Birds' turn to adapt, which meant putting Yuki Irie
on Zhang - a job that the experienced stopper performed admirably. Yue Haoping for his part wasn't having the best of days, and newbies would spend their last roll of the dice on Peter Haley, who replaced Daniel Quong after 75 minutes.
Ultimately, it was not to be for newbies, and the hosts would fall victim to Neeraj Muthyala
's impressive anticipation, on a corner kick in the 83rd. Defending set-pieces was one of newbies' biggest strengths, but a short delivery, combined with Neeraj winning his duel against Kwok Wan Yau, allowed him to flight a bullet header into the near top corner.
This last was a withering setback for newbies, and they whiled away the remaining minutes disconsolately, with Rashid bin Ahmad
making a brief cameo.